Eating out: Bastible - 'I will return when the hype has evaporated'
Bastible, 111 South Circular Rd, Dublin 8
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Bastible has arrived on the Dublin restaurant scene in a flurry of hype.
There are two schools of thought about the timing of restaurant reviews. One says that a restaurant is fair game as soon as it opens its doors and starts charging for food. The reviewer has a public duty, so the argument goes, to advise the paying punters whether it's somewhere they should be spending their hard-earned money. The other says that the reviewer should hold off, and that a truer picture of the restaurant will emerge when it has been up and running for a few weeks, when teething problems have been ironed out or initial over-enthusiasm proves to have been just that. There's merit to both, but at Weekend we tend to let a restaurant settle down before it's reviewed.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that I made the booking when Bastible first opened, but for a date a few weeks hence. Just as well because, in the interim, the interest in Barry Fitzgerald's new restaurant has reached frenzy-level and, if I had waited, Weekend readers might not have had a chance to hear about it until well into next year. Bastible has since removed the phone number from its website, added a plaintive note that it is doing its best to respond to over 1,000 booking requests received over a three-day period and said that it is not taking any more reservations. There appears to be some strain in keeping up with the demand for both tables and food (of which more later) and half a dozen calls from us attempting to confirm our reservation went unanswered. So we arrived in a state of minor anxiety that our table might have been given away.
Bastible is located on the corner of the South Circular Road and Clanbrassil Street, at Leonard's Corner. Walk in, and you could be in Williamsburg or Hackney or Berlin. The décor is contemporary utilitarian: the lino looks like poured concrete and the light fittings are over-sized bulbs with a slick of copper reflector to take the edge off. There's a high communal bar with tall stools along one side and we're happy that we are sitting at one of the tables opposite rather than perching. Fitzgerald was formerly in the kitchen at Etto, and before that at the Harwood Arms gastropub in Fulham, London, which has a Michelin star.
The menu is short. Very short. There are three daily snacks chalked on a board, a choice of three starters, three mains, and a daily special. The special is a char-grilled shoulder of beef with smoked bone marrow and January King cabbage, which I've been reading people tweet and rhapsodise about since Bastible opened its doors. I'm definitely gong to order it. We sit down for our 8.45pm booking and the first thing that anyone says to us is that the special has sold out. "It was so popular," laughs our server, "that we ran out of it at lunchtime." With such a small menu, this looks like seriously bad planning for a Saturday night and it feels almost like an insult when the dish arrives at the tables either side of us.
No matter. Not much anyway. (Actually it does matter, this is sloppy.) We suppress our disappointment and consider the snacks. There are three on offer and we order a portion of each. Deep-fried breaded croquettes are filled with squishy broccoli and Crozier Blue, with a plum purée by way of dipping sauce that makes for a rather odd counterpoint. The pig's head kromeski are breaded and deep-fried too; they're a different shape to the croquettes and come with a slice of pickle on top but it's odd that two out of three snacks are so similar. They're too big and too potato-y; smaller and punchier is what's needed. We don't finish them. The third is deep-fried (I know) chicken skins with house-made crème fraîche alongside. The skins pack a bit of heat, a bit of spice and a bit of sweetness, but not enough of anything to be exciting. The house-made sourdough isn't sour and has no chew (it's not a patch on the Tartine bread we have at home) but the house-made butter is delicious.
A starter of raw beef is served carpaccio-style with deep-fried (yes again!) oysters, wafer-thin slivers of kohlrabi, pickled onions and leaves. Beef and oysters are a classic combination, but the dish seems under-powered, lacking in confidence. Three huge scallops are impeccable, caramelised around the edges and sitting happily with a purée of Jerusalem artichoke and leaves of sea beet.
Instead of the sold-out beef, there's fallow deer cooked two ways: the loin sous-vide, rare and moist, and a ragu of lesser cuts slow-cooked to the point of disintegration, with roasted beetroot and black garlic. It's a good dish but lacks oomph (that's a technical term). Ray wing is served with roast and puréed parsnips, the fish dressed with razor clams and capers. It's meaty, fresh and big on flavour, but the sweetness of the parsnip jars alongside the astringency of the capers.
For dessert, a walnut ice-cream sandwich is terrific, an exercise in crunch and contrast, with roasted pears a lively and lovely juxtaposition to the nut brittle and whipped ice-cream. Mossfield organic cheddar is a fine Irish cheese; at Bastible it comes with an apple cider jelly and two thick slices of bread which are too much at this stage of the meal. Perhaps they had run out of crackers too.
With a bottle of Maretti Langhe Rosso 2013, soft and luscious, and sparkling water, our bill came to €130.50 before service. I'm planning to return when the hype has evaporated and Bastible has evolved into the reliable neighbourhood restaurant that it should be.
ON A BUDGET
A two-course dinner is €27 if ordered before 6.45pm on Wednesday and Thursday.
ON A BLOW OUT
A portion each of the day's snacks to share, followed by a three-course dinner and accompanied by a bottle of Mark Haisma Bourgogne Rouge 2013 would set you back €155 for two before service.
THE HIGH POINT
It's good to see another interesting and ambitious restaurant open in a part of town not known as a food destination. And the wine list is excellent.
THE LOW POINT
With such a short menu, it's a poor show to run out of the special.
7/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
If you happen to be in Cork between now and December 23 and in the mood for a Full Irish, think about heading to the Hayfield Manor Hotel which is donating 50pc of the price of all non-resident breakfasts to the Cork Simon Community. Cork Simon works with men and women who are homeless, offering housing and support in their journey back to independent living. Breakfast costs €27pp and sound like an excellent way of having a festive catch-up with friends or colleagues without the occasion having to involve drinking.